NIGHTMARE SKY Round Table Interview Questions
Several authors of Nightmare Sky: Stories of Astronomical Horror have been locked in a decontamination chamber after exposure to the horrors of the night sky. The very dust of the stars’ explosive pasts traveled lightyears across the unknown, and now that dust pulses through their veins, drawing their eyes up, back to their primal origins. They are called to write the tales whispered down from the stars. Tales which are fraught with horror. The following authors have expelled their terrors onto the page in an anthology of astronomical horror. While these stellar scribes of the macabre await their release from decontamination on November 4, 2022, the editor records the following roundtable discussion:
1) Red Lagoe, (editor): Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, which is why space can be a terrifying concept for so many people. The stories in this anthology run the gamut of horror subgenres, from sci-fi to bizarre, psychological to apocalyptic… It was thrilling to open up submissions and see such a wide range of stories, all fitting into the astronomy or night-sky theme. The fact that so many different stories, from a variety of voices, all come together under one sky…well, it fills my black hole of a heart with stardust. Was there anything specific that inspired your stories and poems?
Dino Parenti (Infinite Focus): I had a dream of an observatory high on the snowy shelf of a volcano just below its caldera, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get to it. Its inaccessibility had me wondering what secrets it hid. Was it abandoned or run by some shadowy underground government group? Was it haunted or possessed? Once I considered the latter, the story began forming at once.
Bernard McGhee (Ya-Yai Makes the Baby Mobiles Spin): When my son was a baby and in the babbling stage, he looked up toward the ceiling one day and started calling out “Ya-Yai” over and over again. It was cute but also a little creepy and made me start wondering: What if there’s something there that only babies can see?
Tiffany Michelle Brown (Stargazer): Two things: 1) the horrors of modern dating; and 2) a very specific scenario: what if you discovered a galaxy within your date’s eye and became completely entranced by it—maybe unhealthily so?
Zachary Rosenberg (The Ravenous Empyrean): I’d say the works of Thomas Ligotti. The idea of a malevolent cosmos helped inspired ‘Ravenous Empyrean.’
Inara Enko (By the Hand of Sorayya): Indigenous Arabian star-lore, my own love of stargazing, and memories both fond and dark of the city where I lived when I was twelve.
Patrick Barb (Her Sisters, The Stars): A dream I had about a person setting themselves on fire because they wanted to be a star.
Kate Ota (Please Don’t Be a Serial Killer): Serial killer podcasts, existential dread, and a trip to a planetarium as a kid.
Grace R. Reynolds (In the Moment): My twenty-fifth birthday fell on the same day as the solar eclipse in 2017. We planned a two-week camping trip in Colorado and Wyoming to celebrate, and I spent my birthday in totality at Grand Teton National Park! I will never forget how eerie the atmosphere was before that incredible astronomical event. This event, as well as the influence of social media in everyday life, inspired my story.
Ai Jiang (A Promise; A Surprise): The thought of space exploration as not something curious and exciting, but as one disconnecting.
Jeremy Megargee (Moth to a Flame): I usually set out to focus on an overall theme with my stories, and for Moth to a Flame, I wanted to explore the concept of loneliness/otherness. Moth is an outcast who has struggled and failed to find her place it the world, and that isolation has driven her to unconventional extremes. She does highly abnormal things in the story, and the macabre is normalized for her, almost welcomed, but I aimed to portray her as a character with no real inherent evil driving at her actions. There’s a broken and twisted innocence at her core, and she takes the darkest steps imaginable to cope with her own alienation.
Salvador Ayala (The Child of Misery): When I first moved to New Jersey, I took it upon myself to visit local landmarks, one of which is the Holmdel Horn Antenna. The antenna looked a little weathered, which gave me the idea to write about a spooky, abandoned observatory.
Rose Strickman (Nox Invictus): Watching windows turn into black mirrors at night, combined with memories of an intense childhood fear of the dark.
Madison McSweeney (Into the Great Wide Open): I actually plucked the protagonist from a different story of mine; it was about a support group for UFO contactees, and the character was a lonely old farmer who’d seen a UFO in his garden and yearned for it to take him away. My early drafts of this story leaned more elegiac than scary, so I aged Joe down and leaned into the missing child plotline.
Kim Z. Dale (Necronaut Retrieval Failure): While listening to a science program about space on the car radio, my daughter asked if anyone had ever committed suicide by blasting themselves into space. Her question was the inception for the story, but the idea truly took shape after I learned about the “Body Back,” a proposed process for storing and returning an astronaut’s body if they died in space such as en route to Mars.
Lindsey Ragsdale (The Rite of the Milk of the Stars): A real life building on the South Side of Chicago. I took the train past it one day, a big hulking thing of 70s Brutalist architecture. Thought how it would look floating in the sky as a satellite, and then what kinds of people would live there, and its origin story. The story flowed from there!
C.R. Beideman (Stellanova): I wanted to write a story in the mode of Borges or Calvino. A story with a knockout last line. The plot developed spontaneously in either a supermarket café or a microbrewery.
Tony Logan (Earth 10): I happened to recently watch a video about the ISS, and it was on the back of my mind. After a while it started to scratch on my brain. Lol.
2) Red Lagoe: I love the variety of places our story ideas come from. Whether it be questions from children, a place we’ve visited, real-life experiences, or our dreams. How easy it is to allow the cosmos to bleed into those seemingly un-cosmic experiences. For me, it happens all the time because I can’t walk out the front door without my eyes being drawn to the vast expanse above. There’s so much up there to be enraptured by. Do you have a favorite celestial object?
Ai Jiang: The moon, as cliché as it might be, because it is tangible, viewable, and lonely but beautiful.
Salvador Ayala: Pulsars. Just super tiny stars blasting beams of radiation like terrifying space lighthouses. What’s not to love?
Madison McSweeney: The moon. It’s so physically close and immediately identifiable that we project a lot of superstitions and weird human notions onto it.
Jeremy Megargee: I like Pluto. It lacks the warmth of the sun, it’s far removed from the other planets, and there’s a great expanse of darkness to travel through before you can even get close to it. I think in that way, Moth and Pluto have many similarities.
Grace R. Reynolds: I am partial to the moon! I’ve always appreciated its symbolism and influence.
Tiffany Michelle Brown: I have a particular fondness for the constellation Cassiopeia. It’s easy to identify in the night sky, and I’ve pointed it out to a number of friends over the years. I also love its role in the movie Serendipity. There’s something wonderfully romantic about John Cusack waxing poetic about the stars.
Zachary Rosenberg: Cliché as it might be? The moon. Just a fixed constant, ever changing, and beautiful.
Inara Enko: The Summer Triangle asterism, for inspiring my favourite star-related legend: The Cowherd and the Weaver-Girl (of Chinese mythology).
C.R. Beideman: Probably Europa. Ocean miles under the ice. It captures the imagination. I expect plesiosaurs a la Jules Verne and star-aligning psychotropic plants.
Dino Parenti: I don’t know if “favorite” is the right word, but comets fascinate me. They’re essentially ice, with some dust and rock as binding agents, but they travel between solar systems like hobos. They’ve marked history from cave paintings to Renaissance art. They’ve also killed planets. Mysterious, awe-inspiring, and not to be messed with.
Lindsey Ragsdale: The moon. I remember looking at it through a basic telescope as a kid on summer nights, and it’s the brightest thing in the night sky when you live in a city.
Patrick Barb: Black holes because there’s this great sense of mystery surrounding them.
Rose Strickman: The moon. It’s beautiful, serene and always changing.
Bernard McGhee: The moon. It’s always floating above us as a constant reminder that there’s a bigger universe out there. It changes the tides on Earth and – since we’re mostly made of water – probably changes us too.
Tony Logan: Oumuamua. It was a large rock that entered out system, looped around and left. It received a bunch of attention being the first object to enter our system from outside. Some people think it may have been an alien probe.
Kim Z. Dale: The moon. I believe in keeping my enemies and my celestial bodies close.
Kate Ota: I know it’s basic, but I love the moon. It doesn’t require any expensive equipment to admire and makes me think of romance.
3) Red Lagoe: Wow! Score nine for the Moon! I don’t think it’s cliché or basic at all, though. There’s a reason it has been an inspiration since the dawn of humanity. It’s a showpiece, for sure. Planets, stars, galaxies, nebulae, black holes, oh my… there’s so much out there to study. Which is why, with Nightmare Sky is releasing soon, your local astronomy club is throwing you a star party book launch! You’re allowed to invite one famous astronomer AND one famous writer (living or deceased…we’ve got connections). The evening will be spent outside under the stars with telescopes, books, food, drink and conversation. Which writer and astronomer will you invite to the Star Party Book Launch?
Kim Z. Dale: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is a cosmologist, not an astronomer, but her passion for quarks would make for lively conversation. It’s hard to choose one writer to invite, but Jonny Sun seems very chill and would have a unique, polymathic perspective on the eclectic gathering.
Kate Ota: Definitely have to choose a female astronomer, I’m going with Cecelia Payne-Gaopschkin, who figured out stars were mostly hydrogen but of course the men of the time didn’t believe her. (She was right!) As for a writer, I’m choosing Cassandra Clare. I’ve loved her books since I was a teenager.
Rose Strickman: I would invite Fonda Lee, author of The Green Bone Saga, and my brother-in-law, an enthusiastic amateur astronomer.
Bernard McGhee: The famous writer I’d invite would be Clive Barker, whose mix of visceral horror and dark fantasy has always been an influence for me. For an astronomer, and since they can be dead, I’d go with Stephen Hawking. I recently read “A Brief History of Time” and I have a lot of questions for him.
Dino Parenti: I mean, the astronomer—and also the writer—I’d chose has got to be Carl Sagan. Just his “little blue dot” paragraph is worth it alone, because in just over a hundred words, he accomplishes more emotionally, philosophically, and intellectually to paint our humble place in the universe than all combined religious texts ever devised.
Salvador Ayala: I don’t know how famous he is, but I would invite Arnold Penzias since he was one of the scientists who discovered Cosmic Background Radiation at Holmdel. As for famous writers, it would have to be Stephen King.
Tiffany Michelle Brown: I would invite the astronomer Carolyn Porco to the party so we could discuss the planetary rings and moons around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune! As for a famous writer, I’d invite V. Castro, because I’m super excited for Aliens: Vasquez, and we all know she’d serve a killer look and phenomenal conversation.
Zachary Rosenberg: Would probably ask Carl Sagan for pure nostalgia value on this one. Writer…oh, that’s tough. Ursula K. LeGuin is easily one I would love to share a drink and conversation with.
Grace R. Reynolds: Carl Sagan and Tana French.
Inara Enko: The writer would be Jokha Alharthi, because of her novel Celestial Bodies. As for the astronomer, let’s revive Al-Biruni from the 10th-11th century!
Ai Jiang: Nicholas Copernicus and Ted Chiang
Tony Logan: I know it may be cheesy, but Neil DeGrasse Tyson seems like he would be fun to hang with at a party. The writer would be Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) I read his writing book and it was great.
Jeremy Megargee: Sounds like my kind of night! I’d choose Cormac McCarthy as my writer. I’ve always loved the way he experiments with prose, takes chances, and strings together beautiful turns of phrase. His work evokes a whole range of emotions. For my astronomer, I’d choose William Herschel. He was also a composer, so I’m sure he could provide some entertainment on a starlit evening.
C.R. Beideman: Writer: I’m reading his autobiography and I think Mark Twain would be a hoot. Astronomer: Tycho Brahe, of course. Because he makes Neil deGrasse Tyson look like Bunsen from The Muppets.
Madison McSweeney: For the author, I’d pick William Gibson (Neuromancer, Spook Country), just because I’d like to meet him. I always learn something new when I read one of his books, and I think he would have interesting observations about the impacts of scientific knowledge on human society. As for the astronomer, it would be cool to chat with Hiroshi Abe who discovered dozens of minor planets and a nova as an amateur.
Patrick Barb: I’d go with two-fer and invite Carl Sagan. Then, there’d be more food and drinks to go around.
Lindsey Ragsdale: What a lovely party idea! I’d invite Katie Bouman, who recently captured the first photo of a black hole, and J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote Babylon 5, among other wonderful projects.
4) Red Lagoe: So, if Carl Sagan is taking the spot of both writer AND astronomer, is he allowed to have twice as much food and drink? That’s for another discussion, I suppose. What an excellent guest list we have for our launch! So many inspiring scientists and artists all in one place. There are many people that come and go from our lives that leave an impact…sometimes it’s just a small piece of advice that stays with us forever. If you could give one piece of writing advice to a new writer, what would it be?
Madison McSweeney: Know the mechanics of an effective story, but don’t be afraid to break the rules and surprise the reader. (Related tip: read a good mix of conventional “commercial” authors and experimental “literary” writers, and try to figure out what they’re doing and why).
Inara Enko: Your first drafts must be for you. Worry about editing and others’ opinions later; protect the feeling that you can express anything in a first draft.
Lindsey Ragsdale: Write every single day, even if it’s not great. Just get something on the page.
Tony Logan: Find a good writing group and stick with it. They are invaluable.
Salvador Ayala: A lot of people say that writing is a solitary enterprise. It can feel that way, but the act of writing is a communal one. Seek out friends and colleagues and read their work. Have them read yours. We all benefit from building community to make our writing better and to enrich our lives.
Dino Parenti: Accept rejection, long waits, interminable rewrites, failure, and frustration—all before you even put pen to paper. If you can still finish one piece having taken all this to heart in advance—even just a flash fiction story or short poem—then you have a good shot at finding publishing success. But if you actually discover the love of it, then you’ve succeeded in life.
Tiffany Michelle Brown: There is an audience for everything. There’s no such thing as too weird, too wild, too experimental. You are what makes your work special, so write what you want and how you want to. Find your voice, lean into it, embrace it. You will find readers who love your writing.
Zachary Rosenberg: Don’t give up, even when it seems hardest. Tell the stories only you can tell.
Patrick Barb: Finish your bad drafts and you’ll find they’re not all that bad after all. Because at least they’re complete.
Kate Ota: Join a writing group, ideally one that meets in person or live online. It will make a bigger difference in your writing than anything else you can do alone.
Grace R. Reynolds: Find a writing circle. Make friends with other writers that will challenge you and help you grow to become a better writer, and return the favor by offering the same for them. It is wonderful to celebrate each other’s successes as you become better at your craft.
Rose Strickman: Write for yourself. Whether it’s speculative fiction, fan fic, literary fiction, nonfiction, make sure you’re having fun while you’re writing it. Even if it takes time to find it an audience, you will still have created something wonderful.
Ai Jiang: Don’t be afraid of making friends with failure, because without it, the meaning of success might remain a stranger.
Bernard McGhee: There will never be a time when it seems like a good time to pursue writing. There will never be a moment when someone says “You’re officially a writer now.” If you want to be a writer, you just have to carve out time, sit down and do it. And then start collecting those rejection letters.
Kim Z. Dale: Write the things you want to read.
Lindsey Ragsdale: Write every single day, even if it’s not great. Just get something on the page.
C.R. Beideman: I yield the floor to James Baldwin: “Write. Find a way to make a living, and write.”
Jeremy Megargee: Submit frequently, and never be afraid of rejection. Thicken your hide and bolster your confidence. Your work deserves to have eyes on it, it deserves to be seen and consumed, so give it wings, and let it fly.
And another thing, a quote borrowed from Anne Rice, “go where the pain is”…write what is brutal, what is hard, the stuff that you have to scrape up from the deepest and darkest pit within yourself. Flay yourself open and leave it all dripping on the page, because that’s true vulnerability, and your readers will remember that.
5) Red Lagoe: A wonderful note to end upon. I wish I could ask many more questions, but the internet only has so much space. Instead, let us know how we can keep up with you.
Tiffany Michelle Brown: Come hang out with me on Twitter @tiffebrown!
C.R. Beideman: What’s a hashtag? @CRBeideman
Zachary Rosenberg: Twitter at @ZachRoseWriter
Inara Enko: You can find me through my website: https://retepunk.art
Jeremy Megargee: I’m only really super active on one social media platform, and that’s Instagram. Follow me at xbadmoonrising for writing & release updates.
Bernard McGhee: You can find me on Twitter at @BMcGhee13.
Lindsey Ragsdale: On Twitter, @Leviathan15.
Red Lagoe: I feel honored and privileged to have each and every author part of this anthology. There’s so much talent here among these rising stars in horror. Nightmare Sky releases November 4th through Death Knell Press.
Click the following link for more information on Nightmare Sky: Stories of Astronomical Horror and help get our authors out of this decontamination chamber by pre-ordering now!
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Red Lagoe grew up on 80s horror and carried her paranoia of slashers and sewer creatures into adulthood. Red is the author of horror collections Lucid Screams and Dismal Dreams. She worked as a staff writer for Crystal Lake Publishing’s Still Water Bay series, and her stories have appeared in several anthologies.
Amateur astronomy is her first love, so Red can be found in the evenings volunteering with her local non-profit astronomy organization, or lingering alone in the inky shadows for a better view of the stars.